Anthony Nappa may have the perfect name for a winemaker, but I do wonder how often he has to explain that his name is not a reference to the famous wine region in California. In actuality, he is both the winemaker for Raphael Vineyards and for his own label, which he sells in the Winemaker Studio, a small tasting room which adjoins Peconic Cellar Door, another small label, in a shopfront adjacent to the LIRR train tracks on Peconic Lane. Like several other winemakers, he seems to enjoy making his own wines, even though his “day job” is making wine.
According to our very knowledgeable and informative server, Nappa buys his grapes from several different vineyards, including Raphael. This year he is offering several wines made from organically grown grapes, but may not in the future, since the grower has decided to make his own wines. We were just at Raphael on December 7th, so it was interesting to compare the two places. We decided that we much prefer the styles of the wines Nappa offers under his own label. But, as we discussed with our server, taste in wine is a very personal thing, so my preferences clearly are not those of other people.
Our visit this year proves yet again that it is a good idea to try each year’s vintage, since wines can be quite different from harvest to harvest. This is particularly true here, since Nappa clearly likes to experiment and try varying combinations. For example, his sparkling wine, labeled Frizzante, is quite different from previous years.
A tasting consists of any five wines from a menu of twelve for $15. We consulted with our server over our choices and, power of the book, got two extra wines for an intriguing side-by-side comparison of different vintages. That turned out to be a good move, as we bought a bottle of one of the extras!
- NV Frizzante $20
The last time, several years ago, that we tried Nappa’s sparkling wine, it was made from pinot noir, riesling, and gewürztraminer and was a rather conventional yellow color. This time it is composed of 51% pinot noir and 49% viognier, and is an orange wine with a pleasant fizz. The aroma is somewhat vegetal—Brussels sprouts, maybe?—and yeasty. The taste is pleasantly dry, with a touch of fruitiness. I don’t know if the color is influencing my thoughts, but I think it tastes a bit like oranges, maybe kumquats. At this price, one could drink it as an everyday wine, and I think it would go well with charcuterie. (NV means non-vintage.)
- 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $22
This wine uses sauvignon blanc grapes from Raphael for 88%, and 12% semillon from another vineyard. The aroma is somewhat floral, unlike the Raphael sauvignon blanc, which was citrusy. This does have a tart, lemon/lime flavor, similar to Raphael’s, but is lighter in both color and flavor. It would be better with food, like a nice dish of local oysters or scallops. Alas, the scallop harvest this year is dreadful, as there was a die-off earlier in the season, when the water was too warm. Darn global climate change.
- 2018 La Strega $29
Made from organic malbec grapes, this is called the witch because malbec is notoriously difficult to deal with here. Aged mostly in steel, and only six months in French oak, this is a very light red, with fruity aromas of currents and blueberries. No tannins. When our server asks, I say I would characterize this as a red wine for white wine drinkers, and he concurs, noting that he had actually bought a bottle for someone who usually only drinks whites and she had liked it.
- 2014 Quattordici Cabernet-Merlot $35
A blend of 63% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 25% cabernet sauvignon, this Bordeaux-style wine is quite lovely. I smell cherries, black licorice, and fruit salad, and taste black raspberries and maybe a touch of black olives. My tasting buddy disputes that last assertion, but adds that it has a “lotta fruit.” We agree on that. It has a surprisingly long finish. I could see this with a nice slice of rare leg of lamb.
- 2012 Merlot $48
Now comes the treat! Because he happens to have a bottle of the 2012 merlot open for wine club members, with one of whom we have been having a pleasant chat, our server asks if we would like to taste the three different vintages of merlot they have on offer. Of course we would! They are encouraging the wine club members to drink this wine now, and I can see why. It still has the merlot cherry aroma and taste, but the taste has become more minerally, with few tannins. No finish. It’s fine—and we like it better than any of the Raphael $72 bottles of red—but definitely is at the end of its life.
- 2014 Merlot $40
In 2014, they got their merlot grapes from Shinn, unlike the other two vintages. This is also dry, with more tannins, and an aroma of cherries and olives. It does have a mouth-watering acidity, and could go well with barbequed pork chops.
- 2015 Reserve Merlot $40
This one “beats the bunch,” as my grandma would say with the birth of each new great-grandchild. It has an interesting complexity of flavor, and the type of tannins that makes us think it would do well after a couple of years. Of course, it has cherry flavors and aromas, but there is more to it that just cherry, more depth. We decide to buy a bottle and put it in the cellar for a couple of years, “we should live so long,” as my grandma would also say.
Reasons to visit: intimate setting where you can discuss and savor the wines at leisure with a well-informed server (he remembered we had been there before); well-priced wines; the Frizzante for casual sparkling wine drinking; the Quattordici, the 2015 Reserve Merlot. Note that they used to be connected to a store which sold cheeses, etc., but it is now another tasting room, the Peconic Cellar Door. Next time we’ll try the rosés and the other reds. They also have for sale honey, jam, and kimchi made at their Shared Table Farm.